Reporting from Illinois Public Radio's Guy Stephens and Brian Mackey was used in this report.
Longtime state employees would no longer be able get free health insurance when they retire under legislation approved by the Illinois House today.
The vote is part of a push to cut pension benefits for government retirees. The governor, House speaker and other officials want to save money by cutting pensions, health care and other costs.
House Republican Leader Tom Cross says it's the first of many difficult votes to come.
"It's time for us to do the uncomfortable tasks, have the uncomfortable conversations, and be honest with retirees. Tell them: You know what? We can't afford to give it to you free."
Right now, people who spend 20 years working for the state don't have to pay health insurance premiums in retirement.
Under the new measure, the governor's administration would determine how much retirees would have to pay. But legislative committees would have to approve those premium rates - and Hosue Speaker Michael Madigan, in an exchange with fellow Democrat Karen May, admitted that the level of savings is uncertain.
"Do we know how much this will save this year?" May asked. "The answer is no, but I would reference you to my earlier remarks that the program costs the state about $800 million a year right now," the speaker replied. "Okay, but it's not fleshed out," May said. "And then do we know how much it would reduce our unfunded liability down the road?" "No," Madigan answered.
The measure passed 74-to-43 and now goes to the Senate. But the vote did not break down along party lines.
"It's all too easy to go after retirees," said Republican Jim Sacia, from north-central Illinois. "But don't lose sight of those we have made promises to."